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5 Top Tips for Revising as a Student PA

This post is for all you PA students out there who are wondering ‘how the hell am I gonna learn all this stuff in 2 years?!’ It’s not easy, but it’s definitely possible so have a read of my top tips. Please note these are my opinions based on my experiences and how my course was taught. I’ve had a number of people ask me how I revised when I was a student so I’ve created this as an aid (its not bible).

#1 Don't leave revision to the end

You may associate revision with exam season - that last month of cramming everything in before exams. I’m not saying it's impossible but given the amount you need to know to pass your university and national PA exams, it's not a good idea. I suggest revising as you go along. I used to go home after uni and write up my lectures and any additional reading as I went along. On my course we focused on a different condition or body system each week, so it was fast paced. By being organised and doing the work as you go along, you’ll be less likely to get overwhelmed and fall behind.

#2 Know when to stop

One problem many people will face is knowing how much to know about a condition or topic. You need to be sensible about it when you’ve got such limited time. Knowing cellular biology isn’t always necessary, try to focus on what you need to know to be a good PA. Here are some headings to focus your learning:

  • definition (what is this condition/what does it mean)

  • aetiology (general understanding of cause)

  • signs and symptoms

  • how to diagnose (tests and investigations)

  • differential diagnoses

  • treatment

#3 Use resources that suit your learning style

If cracking open a massive text book is a revision turn off, then don’t force it. There are so many different ways to learn. If you’re a visual-auditory learner, then watch videos on the internet. If you prefer making concise, to-the-point notes then use apps and lectures. If you like to learn by being interactive, then use question banks and scenario simulation resources. Basically, use what works for you there’s no right or wrong way. I personally didn’t use many textbooks because I found it difficult to focus on the important bits. Also, textbooks are expensive and not always up to date. Saying that, there are some which I couldn’t have gone without (I’ll be making a list of resources in the future, so eyes peeled).

#4 Self-study vs group study

This can depend on what you’re revising and who you’ve got to hand. When it comes to writing notes and engaging my brain I’m a gold fish and get easily distracted. I can’t even have music on in the background (I’m that person that gets annoyed when its not silent in the library sorry). So obviously I made notes in the comfort and quiet of my room. But when it came to revising for OSCEs, me and my PA pals would revise in groups and this worked really well for us. You can learn a lot from your performance and from watching others. We literally set up stations in our living room and kitchen, properly timed and everything. We also went to uni during exam period and practiced using equipment like ophthalmoscopes and otoscopes. Getting accustomed to the set up and timings of OSCEs will make you less nervous on the day so you can concentrate on the important stuff.

#5 Use the Matrix to guide what you should know

The Matrix is the document that specifies the core clinical conditions you should have knowledge about as a Physician Associate. It’s a huge list so you need to prioritise your conditions using the classification system 1A,1B, 2A, 2B. The document explains everything so put some time aside to give it a read and get comfortable with it. It should guide your revision for the written paper and that knowledge will be put to use in the OSCEs. Here’s a link to the matrix scroll down and click on the document ‘Matrix specification of Core Clinical Conditions for the Physician Assistant by category of level of competence’.

To prepare for OCSEs, use the 'OSCE Blueprint' which you’ll also find on the link above. It will explain what stations can feature and how many of each category you can expect. It's a case of going through the blueprint list and practicing.

Hopefully you feel more confident about revising and have some points of reference. Again, this advise is based on what I did as a student, it is in no way perfect.

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